More Than Meets the Eye(2)

By: Karen Witemeyer

“Lower your voice, Delphinia,” Miss Woodson urged. “The children can hear you.” She twisted in her seat to smile an apology at Evie. The smile didn’t take away the sting of Lizard Lady’s mean comment, but it gave Evie just enough gumption to ignore it while considering for the first time what the other leftover children must be feeling.

Evie straightened away from her brother and turned around in her seat to look at the two boys behind her. Three rows back sat a boy close to Hamilton’s age. He looked nothing like her brother, though. He was so pale and skinny. The new coat the Children’s Aid Society had given him hung on him like it would a scarecrow. He stared out the window, his shoulders slumped, chest caved. And every time a puff of soot found its way into the railcar, he coughed.

The other boy sat in the very back of the car on the opposite side. His back was pressed sideways into the corner, one long leg drawn up onto the bench, his hat pulled low on his face. Not so low she couldn’t see his eyes, though. They were dark, just like the rest of him. Dark clothes. Dark hair. Darkly tanned skin. He even had dark whiskers growing on his cheeks. But those dark blue eyes made her shiver. Especially when he stared straight at her. Like he was doing now.

She didn’t think Zach had any friends. He was always by himself, even when the train had been filled with children. She had Hamilton. Zach didn’t have anyone. That was sad. Everyone needed a friend.

Evie smiled and wiggled her fingers in a timid wave.

Zach glared at her and showed his teeth like a growling dog.

Evie snatched her fingers back and spun around in her seat. Maybe some people didn’t need friends after all.

“I’ve had great success placing children in Bonham before,” Miss Woodson said. “I’m sure everything will work out.”

Mrs. Dougal harrumphed. “The only kid you might place is the Pearson boy. Several have offered for him already. All you have to do is separate him from his sister.”

Separate her from Hamilton? Evie’s heart pattered so hard it felt like it might break out of her chest. She grabbed her brother’s hand and held on for all she was worth.

“But it’s so hard on the children when we split them up,” Miss Woodson protested.

“It’ll be harder on them if they end up on the streets in New York. If we can save one, I say we do it. Sometimes the hard decisions are the right ones.” Mrs. Dougal tossed a quick look over her shoulder at Evie and Hamilton before sniffing and turning back to Miss Woodson. “There’s no reason to kill the boy’s chance at a promising future just to stave off a few tears. They’ll recover.”

Evie stared hard at Miss Woodson, begging inside her head for her champion to tell Lizard Lady she was wrong. But she didn’t. Instead, Miss Woodson bit her lip and nodded.

“You can’t let them split us up, Ham-ton!” Evie wailed in a desperate undertone, careful not to let Lizard Lady hear. “You can’t!”

Hamilton squeezed her hand, his chin jutting out. “Don’t worry. I won’t.” Keeping hold of her hand, he slid off the seat and made his way into the aisle. “Come on. I need to talk to Zach.”

The scary boy in the back of the railcar who’d just snarled at her? Evie dragged her heels. “I don’t wanna—”

Hamilton huffed out a breath and gave her one of his don’t-be-such-a-baby looks. “He’s just a kid like the rest of us, Evie. And he can help.”

He was most certainly not like the rest of them. She wasn’t even fully convinced Zach was a kid. Not with whiskers and legs nearly as long as Papa’s had been. But she wasn’t about to let her brother think she was scared, so she pressed her lips together and let Hamilton drag her along.

“What d’ya want?” Zach lowered his leg from the bench to sprawl across the opening between his seat and the rear-facing one across the way, barring Hamilton from getting close.

But that didn’t stop her brother. He just climbed over the barrier and sat in the seat facing the other boy, leaving Evie to clamber up beside him.

“I need advice,” Hamilton said, his voice firm like Papa’s used to be whenever he was instructing them on proper behavior. “The sponsors think to split us up at the next stop, and I can’t let that happen. So I need to know how you get people not to claim you.”

Slowly, Zach sat up and leaned across the open space between the two seats. His dark blue eyes narrowed, and the edge of his mouth lifted in a smile that looked downright scary. Evie’s stomach clenched.

“I tell them that I’ll kill them in their sleep.”

Evie gasped. How could someone say such a terrible thing? Surely he didn’t mean it. Did he?